Partnerships with employers have always been a core part of the Drive Forward model, enabling us to provide opportunities to young adults leaving the care system which, without the usual support networks, they would otherwise not have access to. At the beginning of lockdown, as our partners postponed work placements, business prospects retreated and we heard countless reports of the impact on youth unemployment, we worried about what the future of these partnerships might hold.
The importance of community, optimism and new opportunities
At the same time, Covid-19 has reminded us of the importance of community. As lockdown continued, this feeling and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has given us reason for optimism as new employers began to reach out to us again and offer their support. It is with this in mind, that we hosted our most recent webinar, Mitigating the Impact of Covid-19 on Care Leavers Career Prospects, inviting current partners and new employers to join our community for young adults who have left care.
“My care experience in three words: complicated, strengthening and stigmatized” – Farhia
Farhia, Drive Forward Ambassador and Policy Forum Member, opened the webinar with, challenging attendees to question their assumptions about people in and leaving care.
If employers were to take one thing from the event we hope that it is this and that they were struck by the fact that in joining our support network, support is two-way: whilst they are able to offer invaluable support by providing opportunities they, in turn, stand to gain new and talented team members.
During the webinar we focused on two pressing issues: youth unemployment and racial justice in the workplace. On the former, we encouraged attendees to consider creative ways that they can provide young people with the chance to get their foot in the door when entering a more competitive job market. In conversation with Wendy, from Squire Patton Boggs, we heard about their recent initiative and virtual work placements. We also heard from our partner at Baringa, who are undertaking research into the resilience of different industries in light of the pandemic. This will inform how we approach employers and prepare individuals we support for these sectors. Presenting their findings, they highlighted the challenges, namely the huge decrease by 50% in job opportunities from February 2020 to now, as well as the opportunities: large firms are taking ever greater strides in relation to their social and community obligations. So, we asked our audience what they thought:
“I can’t change my past; I can’t change its complicated nature. I do not want to change my strengths; it has made me into a person I am today, a strong proud woman who has achieved all the milestones despite the mountains I had to climb to achieve them. However, I can attempt to change the stigma around me by my words and actions so that others do not have to suffer the same things I did.” – Farhia
In the second part of the webinar, we turned our focus to anti-racism and racial equality in the workplace. We wanted to talk about this topic because of the importance of Black Lives Matter which has led to a number of employers contacting us to support them increase diversity in their workplace. Whilst diversity and inclusion have been on the employers’ agendas for a long time, this is not being reflected for example at Senior Management level or when looking at the continued discrimination of people from BAME backgrounds entering work.
The recent protests, happening in a time in which it is impossible to ignore the inequalities that exist in our society, have led employers to consider once again their approach to diversity as not only a business goal, but a moral necessity. We at Drive Forward include ourselves in this reflection and are taking steps to better understand how racial injustice affects people who we support and those we work with. We also recognise the importance of working with external organisations who have long been championing this cause and so were delighted to be joined by Sandra Kerr CBE, Business in the Community’s Race Equality Director, to encourage attendees to sign their Race at Work Charter.
As an organisation, we highly value the lived experience of those working with us, their views, perspectives and suggestions for improvement. It is in this spirit that we reached out to members of our Policy Forum to support our own organisational learning and promote better practice. We are very grateful to Bébert, who as part of a placement with Drive Forward conducted research on race in the English care system.
Sharing his findings at the webinar, Bébert explained that Children from BAME backgrounds are over-represented in the care system, although he cautioned the tendency to generalise when talking about people from ethnic minority backgrounds. For example, Asian children are less likely to be in care than White children, but there a high proportion of children from Bangladesh in care. There is significant disparity between different communities.
Bébert calls for more research on race and the care system as the lack of robust evidence makes it difficult to explain why some minorities are over-represented in the care system. Some possible explanations involve socio-economic disadvantage and the increase in numbers of unaccompanied asylum seekers. Research has also shown that Black children are taken into care more quickly than White children which could indicate prejudice in the care system.
Next, we turned to FORE (Forward on Racial Equality), which has been set up at Drive Forward Foundation to promote racial equality in the workplace. As a group of individuals with care experience and from BAME backgrounds, FORE meets to talk about personal experiences and discuss ways in which Drive Forward as well as employers can challenge race inequalities and promote inclusive workplaces. In his presentation, our colleague Justin, Employment Consultant, highlighted the importance of being able to talk openly about race in order to address racial inequality, especially in a business environment. Too often, where there is a majority white workforce, this is not something that people feel comfortable doing, as the poll we conducted with the present audience reiterates.
Turning to our panel, members from FORE, shared their insights:
“I feel it is very important for employers to take into consideration issues around race when employing care experienced people from BAME backgrounds, because I know, that we would be already having to deal with the challenges and stigma, that comes from being in the care system and it would be very disheartening and potentially damaging for us, to have to experience further discrimination in the workplace, due to our race. Within the wider society we can escape some of the stigma and discrimination that we may experience, due to our backgrounds, because it’s not our 9-5, but in the workplace it not as easy, as we will be spending majority of our lives there and we want work and contribute to society that we are living in. That being said I want to be clear that hiring care experienced people from BAME backgrounds, can really enrich any workforce they go into in many ways, as they are incredibly resilient, driven and want to achieve and create a better future.” – Shenika
“It is important to address White Fragility and White people and Black people must find a space where they are able to talk about race and feel comfortable within that conversation. This should be a space where people can understand why they think what they think and can unpack where their thoughts and attitudes come from.” –Florida
“Listen, Understand, Validate. Listening should be an open floor when a person comes to you, you must listen and not conclude your own opinions. Understand what the person is trying to highlight and sympathise. Validate – you do not need to accept but you must empathise.” – Kadiatu
What we take away
And so, having packed a lot into one hour and half, (and just as my internet broke down – very timely!) we drew to a close.
“I was at the event, and am very grateful… it was very clear, important and had an impressive breadth of voices.” – Helena, Senior Creative Producer, V&A Museum of Childhood
We were delighted to be joined by 60 attendees from a range of organisations and welcome new employers to our community. Already, some of them have been in touch to show their support; PanMacmillan Publishing donated books to FORE’s book club which will promote racial justice through shared learning.
This year has shown that community, support networks and strong relationships are key to overcoming adversity. It is the same realisation that our founder, Martha Wansbrough, had when she first set up the charity 10 years ago:
“At the start, we firmly believed that a sustainable job was the best chance for an independent and fulfilling future. What we discovered within the first few months was that growing up without a stable home, a caring family and no financial safety net could have a devastating effect on a person’s life chances altogether; jeopardizing levels of health and wellbeing as well as long-term employment prospects.
This awareness led us to broaden our objectives to ensure that our young people were given more support than just finding them a job. 1-2-1 consistent relationships are key to success. We encourage our young people to learn to trust their professional and social networks. Through their interaction with their mentors, their line managers and their peer group they learn to embrace interdependence and not to be afraid to ask for help when they need it.
You will see, therefore, that we have moved our original vision from promoting independence to promoting interdependence. This has been an enriching and empowering journey for our team as well as our young people.” – Martha Wansbrough, CEO & Founder of Drive Forward Foundation